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Will retailers turn Black Friday into Black December?

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South African retailers have been putting their Black Friday specials online well ahead of the big sales day and may even extend them into December to try salvage what has been a dismal trading year.

The hard lockdown period which only allowed essential retail to reopen crippled many retailers and although they are hoping for a sweeping rescue by Black Friday and festive season sales, coronavirus precautions will keep many consumers away.

Black Friday usually conjures up images of snaking queues and crowded stores, however, it is likely to be muted this year due to the pandemic, as shoppers will still be expected to socially distance and wear masks in-store, says Nashil Chotoki, national retail asset manager for Redefine Properties.

Furthermore, as part of the health regulations, stores will also be expected to limit the number of people inside at any one time.

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“We are already seeing retailers working around this by extending promotions rather than limiting it to just a few days. We expect to see a Black November or even a Black December as retailers go all out to capture the available rands and cents.”

With the threat of coronavirus still a clear and present danger, malls and national retailers can’t risk attracting large crowds as seen in the preceding years, often camping outside and queueing for hours for deep discounts.

For this reason, Black Friday is getting a “pandemic makeover”, and instead of waiting for Cyber Monday, shoppers will be able to buy online any and all discounted products as deals that are usually reserved for in-store shopping will appear online during the month.

However, despite the euphoria around Black Friday and the sales surge that follows, Chotoki says retailers are likely to run fewer discounting promotions compared to last year as they cannot afford the reduction in margin following the series of COVID-19 related lockdowns.

Still, Meshel Muzuva, a senior finance and economics lecturer at Mancosa private higher education institution, says marketers can easily influence and leverage consumers’ behaviour to get them to spend more on Black Friday.

He, therefore, cautions South Africans to not indulge in the temptation of mega discounts – especially when such purchases are made on credit and during the huge economic impact that Covid-19 still has on the economy. 

With stores navigating a Covid-19 minefield of hygiene protocols, limitations on customer numbers and social distancing against a backdrop of consumer financial constraints, he agrees that Black Friday is moving online as a “more viable alternative”, and that Black Friday deals have been put online early as many stores realise people are not willing to risk increasing their exposure to the coronavirus.

“So far, we are seeing deals from Makro, Game, Woolworths, Hi-Fi Corp and other online retailers like Zando and Takealot.”

In 2019 a 35% increase in overall shopping activity was recorded on Black Friday compared to that of a normal Friday; a pattern which was also observed in 2018 between Black Friday and a normal month-end, reveals data from Lightstone. Black Friday 2019 coincided with the end of the month (November 29), as opposed to 2018 when it occurred a week before month-end on November 21.

This allowed for different shopping behaviours between the two years.

“Our conclusion was that there was an additional uplift in activity during 2019 when Black Friday behaviour and month-end shopping behaviour was combined,” says Lightstone’s Linda Reid from Lightstone.

Aggregated and anonymised data from Tracker showed that during the previous two years, shopping destinations were busier two days before Black Friday compared to other normal weekdays.

“With many retailers offering ‘Black Month’ discounts in 2020, it will be interesting to compare the entire month’s activity to that of previous years.”

Mike Farquharson, managing director of online courier aggregator Rush says the situation presents a “unique opportunity” for South Africa’s e-commerce players, particularly smaller retailers, to win over consumers through fast and efficient customer service, which includes flexible and convenient courier services.

In today’s digital age, delivery services have become essential to how modern businesses operate, agrees Chamaine Pelser, sales manager at The Courier Guy, a Rush partner.

“The courier performs the last mile of the customer journey.  A late delivery could ruin the entire experience regardless of the quality of service until that point.”

Black Friday and festive shopping aside, Org Geldenhuys, managing director of Abacus Divisions says some commercial property sectors out there will benefit from Covid-19, including companies involved in the logistics, online retail, home delivery, and entertainment industries.

Earlier this year he stated that warehousing, distribution, logistics, and courier companies. Would experience growth following the pandemic and that tenants in this space would require additional warehouse space as online shopping grew.



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